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[whitespace] Artists Television Access
Elana Koff

Independents' Data: ATA is a one-stop shop for emerging film and TV artists.

Artists Television Access opens up tech toybox

By Michele Jenkins

Hidden between a voodoo-accessories shop and a glassware store on the corner of Valencia and 21st Street lies the office and theater space of Artists Television Access. A warren of computer rooms, offices, editing spaces and a main theater area/showroom, ATA plays the part of the underground artist's haven perfectly.

And what a haven it is! In the computer-driven world of video and film editing, "high tech" almost always translates as "high cost," but not here. Whereas just about anywhere else in the world the use of a VHS or SVHS editing suite--essential for splicing, dicing and polishing future video masterpieces--can coast upward of $100 an hour, at ATA future Spielbergs need only shell out about 10 bucks.

A virtual Jiffy Lube of the art-media world, ATA doesn't stop there. Once a film or video has been Photoshopped, Illustratored, Sony Effected and edited to pieces, ATA offers emerging artists several options for showing their work. ATA hosts a weekly community-access TV show (that's where the "Television Access" part comes in), the Saturday night "Other Cinema" movie showings and often two or three other weekly screenings. And for those totally new to the world of new media, ATA offers a cornucopia of workshops covering everything from basic HTML programming to common computer programs to how to write your own press release.

Surprisingly enough, ATA began in the early 1980s as a commercial art gallery, but within a year the original owners saw a need for a place where emerging artists could show their work and get low-cost access to the newfangled world of video equipment. Marshall Webber Gallery was chucked like last year's art fad, and Artists Television Access was born. "At that point video was new and rare in the art world," explains artistic director Daniel "Dewy" Scott. "ATA started offering it with a very populist approach."

What ATA had to offer was one VHS editing deck and some space. Since then ATA has expanded along with the high-tech visual arts world and now offers a full Mac lab, complete with graphic design and audiovisual stations, a community-access cable show and a repertoire of workshops with such titles as "Video Production and Editing for Women" and "Quark for the Independent Artist." "The computer and high-tech side of ATA is a very recent addition; it's something we just sort of stumbled into," says Scott. "But that's just part of the way this place evolves."

But what ATA has evolved into is more than just a high-tech rental shop. The mini-theater space, made up of a dozen mismatched rows of folding chairs and scavenged theater seats, isn't there just because it looks cool. ATA is also where many of the people who rent the equipment get to show their work to the public for the first time. "People don't just start creating or exhibiting through big galleries and museums," explains Scott. "We give people their first chance to create and get their work out there."

Getting work out there may just mean having an oil painting hung on the theater wall, an installation art piece in the window or a video on the weekly TV show. ATA also has two or three film and video shows a week.

Many of those shows happen at the consistently eclectic and often bizarre Saturday-night screenings called "Other Cinema." According to Other Cinema director Craig Baldwin, the point of the screenings, which range from a Super-8 film festival to a documentary about the Northwest wilderness-preservation movement, is to clear a path for radical politics and art.

"Other Cinema is all about the stuff that falls between the cracks," says Baldwin. "It's a small corner of the film industry, but it deserves an audience." That audience sometimes fills the tiny theater beyond capacity, as when Rex Everything of Negativland presented a slide show last November on his new "Unofficial Guide to Disneyland," and other times family and friends fill just the first row or two.

Many of ATA's shows consist of works that would otherwise be labeled too radical, too political or too controversial to be shown. What other theaters might consider too heavy on issues and too light on art is an ATA staple. "ATA represents a very important part of the media culture of San Francisco," says volunteer Kota Ezawa. "ATA has the cheapest media classes in town and is a really great way for subversive artists to get their stuff shown and for racial and sexual minorities to have a forum."

ATA often comes across as a community within a community. "We try and create an environment that creates community," says Scott.

Matt Biederman, director of services, adds, "A lot of the time, the people who come here to use the equipment spend most of their time working alone. ATA provides the equipment, but it also provides access to the art community."

Biederman explains that he grew up in the Midwest working with video and dreamed of a place like ATA. When he moved to San Francisco, Biederman applied to become a volunteer and has since moved into one of the few part-time paid positions. "[As director of services] I want to be able to offer things to the ATA community that they would be using if they could spend $100 an hour," said Biederman. "That's the big picture. Day to day, I try and make sure everything is working and that we're using our resources in the best way."

Computers and editing machines may be what initially attracts people to ATA, but the real resource seems to be the people behind the scenes. Scott believes ATA has managed to survive this long as a nonprofit, artist-run organization partly because of the intense loyalty of its 30 volunteers. "This place has always attracted ambitious people who want something they can sink their teeth into," he says.

And there is plenty for ambitious teeth to sink into. On top of all it offers for the emerging artist, ATA also tries to stay involved with local Mission District concerns. ATA organizes "Cyberspace for Women," a class devoted to helping low-income women beef up their résumés; "What's Up in the Mission," a violence-prevention program for Mission youths; and a series of Spanish-language media-literacy classes.

Scott credits this community involvement for ATA's longevity. "We've been around since 1984. That's a fairly long time for an artist-run organization," says Scott. "There is clearly a great deal of support from the community; otherwise, we wouldn't still be here."

ATA, 992 Valencia St.; 415/824-3890.

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From the February 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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